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Hundred Acres is not even a ghost of its old self

‘Hundred Acres’

 

Imagine
a restaurant on a quaint, tree-lined street. Nearby, a few lonely
restaurants attract just enough attention to survive. But this one is
haunted – haunted by the ghosts of restaurants past.

Perhaps
you’ve eaten in a place like this, where yesterday seems as vivid as
the present. You go to the door you’ve always gone to, only to find
it’s moved 40 feet north. A young female hostess greets you, and yet
you can’t help expecting to see the gruff, French maitre d’ who stood
at a different door for 20 years. A grandfather clock – junked long ago
– stands stubbornly in the corner sounding the stroke of midnight. And
the newly gray walls suddenly fade to dingy green.

You open the
menu and it’s a palimpsest – traces of the old menu visible behind the
new one. Bouillabaisse instead of a burger. French onion soup and steak
frites instead of corned beef tongue and mixed market lettuces.

The street is MacDougal, the restaurant is Hundred Acres, and the ghost is Provence.

We all hunger for the past. So did Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman – husband and wife – when they tried to resuscitate the original Provence just last year.

They
gave it a sunny yellow coat of paint, installed a white marble bar and
tweaked the Provence menu. But it didn’t quite live up to the original
Provence.

So they started over. They painted the walls gray,
hung farm photos on the walls and scattered potted plants throughout
the back garden. You can eat in the back garden, which feels like a
greenhouse. Or at the communal table or up front by the windows, where
you feel like part of the sidewalk life.

At a Hundred Acres,
the menu changes daily. The soft-shell crab sandwich has already been
replaced by a pike sandwich. The fried green asparagus has been
replaced by fried green tomatoes. So don’t get attached to any one
dish.

But it’s worth getting attached to the trio of toast,
which tastes better than its name suggests. Two of the trio linger in
my memory – a rubble of diced beets over a confited rabbit, generously
spread on a thick crostini. And a luscious, salty whitefish topped with
dill.

The kitchen does a really good job with Maine sea scallops, nicely charred and skewered with Tokyo
baby turnips poised in a tangy yogurt-mint sauce. There’s a gratifying
riff on macaroni & cheese made with Westfield Farms goat cheese and
specked with morel mushroom and English peas.

But there are too
many disappointments. Even though the Southern fried rabbit is
excellent, the Southern fried chicken is downright ordinary. The pretty
pea-paved halibut is nicer to look at than to eat. The grits were
swamped by too much olive oil. And speaking of swamped, the dandelion
salad should probably be served with a life preserver.

Perhaps
the best way to forget about Provence is to order from the dessert menu
– perhaps a wonderfully fresh slice of blueberry pie or a moist
chocolate layer cake with intense chocolate ice cream.

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